IBM announces Win CE-based WorkPad

IBM added a new member to its WorkPad family of PC companions Wednesday with a new breed of device that is based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE.

The WorkPad z50 will join IBM's WorkPad 30x and WorkPad c3 -- both of which are smaller, pocket-sized devices based on 3Com Corp.'s Palm OS. The 2.6-pound z50 resembles a miniature ThinkPad, IBM's notebook, and includes a 8.2-inch VGA screen, a keyboard that is 95 percent the size of a ThinkPad, and an 8-hour lithium-ion battery. It is powered by a 131MHz NEC MIPS processor and has 16MB of RAM, 20MB of ROM, 33.6K-bps modem, speaker, microphone and infrared port.

The z50 fills what IBM says was a gap between its Palm OS-based WorkPads and Windows-based notebooks. "It became clear that the pocket-sized technology is great for some people, but there were some unmet needs," said Bill Tsang, worldwide segment manager for IBM's ultraportable and PC companion products. Those needs include the ability not only to manage a calendar and receive e-mail, which Palm OS devices do well, but to easily reply to mail and access the Web, he added.

According to Tsang, partner 3Com's Palm Computing division is committed to the pocket-sized platform arena and was happy to see IBM branch out into larger, Windows CE devices. "We work closely with Palm and they clearly see their advantage is in the pocket-sized [area]," said Tsang. "Palm was fully aware of what we were doing [with the z50], and they welcome it because it helps to legitimise the companion space."

Initially, IBM expects the z50 to be used primarily in vertical markets, said Adalio Sanchez, general manager, IBM Mobile Computing. "We call it vertical market development," he said. To that end, IBM is currently working with 42 customers to develop customised, vertical applications for the platform, said Sanchez. He expects that within 18 months the platform, based on Windows CE Handheld PC Professional Edition, will start proving itself in the mainstream, enterprise market. According to Sanchez, IBM will unveil another "ultralight" platform in June.

The WorkPad z50, available now for $999 (£610) comes with Mobile Connect, IBM's software for synchronising both the Windows CE and Palm OS WorkPads with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange. It also includes Microsoft Pocket Office -- the Windows CE-sized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook and Internet Explorer.

The WorkPad z50 will also support CompactFlash Type II storage devices, so users can add IBM's upcoming microdrive when it becomes available sometime in the third quarter. That will add 340MB of data storage to the device.

Other options include a $199 extended-life battery and a $99 UltraPort Replicator. More information on the WorkPad z50 is available on IBM's site.